Brookline lawyer announces campaign to succeed Joe Kennedy III — and become state’s first Latino congressman

"I don't think there's anyone better who can connect all the different communities."

Ben Sigel
Ben Sigel –Courtesy of Mintz Levin

It’s still not too late to jump into the 4th District primary contest.

Ben Sigel, a Brookline resident and lawyer, announced a bid Tuesday to succeed Rep. Joe Kennedy III and also to become the first Latino congressman in Massachusetts history. Sigel is the seventh Democrat to enter the race, all of whom reside in either Brookline or Newton. But he argues that his qualifications, if not policy proposals, are unique.

“I don’t think the issues are going to separate people so much in this race,” Sigel told Boston.com in an interview Tuesday. “I think where people are going to separate is ‘Who can the people in the 4th truly connect with and trust?’ And it’s something I’ve been doing literally my entire life, I think very successfully.”

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The 43-year-old Braintree native’s mother moved from Puerto Rico to New York as a child. His father, a Worcester native, worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and oversaw public housing authorities in Taunton and Fall River, located in the southern portion of the 4th District.

Sigel himself has been active in politics and nonprofits. After college, he worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and later the House Democratic Caucus, before going back to school to get law and business degrees. Sigel has also served on the boards of more than a dozen nonprofits, including as president of the Hispanic National Bar Association in New England, working to increase the population of Latino workers.

While the Latino population makes up a small slice of the southeastern Massachusetts congressional district that Sigel hopes to represent, he says the issues they face are the same ones facing many in the South Coast’s diverse, working class cities.

“I don’t think there’s anyone better who can connect all the different communities together at this time,” he said.

Sigel moved to Brookline, where he lives with his wife and four children, in 2003. For the last eight years, Sigel was the director of client and community relations, special counsel at Mintz Levin, where he focused on expanding the Boston-based law firm’s work. His last day at Mintz was Tuesday.

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Sigel said Kennedy had done a “tremendous job” representing the 4th District and praised the Massachusetts congressman — who is now running to unseat Sen. Ed Markey — for focusing on important, if not front-page, issues like the opioid crisis, transgender rights, and mental health.

For his part, Sigel says his campaign is centered around the notion of “access to opportunities.” His platform includes Democratic agenda items like “universal and affordable” health care; combating climate change; universal pre-K and affordable college; comprehensive immigration and gun reform; and increasing economic opportunities to eliminate the inequality gap.

“Those all are around access to opportunities,” he said. “When you get access to opportunities, you have more of a chance to succeed and you then start decreasing inequalities that are happening between different groups”

Sigel is embarking on a listening tour Wednesday to visit all 34 cities and towns in the 4th District by Feb. 9 and hear from local residents and leaders to better understand key issues. He also signaled a preference toward near-term “practical solutions,” like allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices and lowering student loan rates.

“It can’t be just what we strive for,” Sigel said, after being asked about his would-be predecessor’s support for large progressive goals, like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal.

“There are people that have great health insurance policies right now,” he added. “I am one that truly believes that the best solutions generally — and this isn’t just for health care; across the board — is when government, private, and nonprofit come together and work together for the best solutions.”

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Sigel also said he’d focus on combating the recent “tremendous rise in bigotry, hatred, and anti-Semitism.” In addition to supporting federal legislation to designate such hate crimes as domestic terrorism,” Sigel said he wanted a more pro-active approach.

“You have to educate people from the beginning — from preschool all the way up, and adults — that stereotypes and hatred and making fun of people, that can get worse really, really fast,” he said. “I’ve been a victim of anti-Semitism and hatred both for being Jewish and Latino, so I know what that feels like, and no one should ever feel like that, because when they feel like that it decreases their ability to have other access to opportunities.”

Sigel will have to play a certain amount of catch-up in the race, which already included Brookline resident and financial regulator Ihssane Leckey, Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman, Brookline resident and social entrepreneur Alan Khazei, Brookline resident and former Alliance for Business Leadership president Jesse Mermell; Newton City Councilor Jake Auchinloss, and former White House speechwriter Dave Cavell.

By the end of last month, several candidates had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their campaigns.

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